If you’re a marketer or business owner in financial services, you probably know how difficult it can be to stand out in such a competitive sector. As a marketing consultant to small business owners, I've seen many marketing plans for financial services. Some strategies are potent, facilitating exponential growth, and others are just documents that get lost in internal filing systems. If you'd prefer the latter, read on...
The Secret Formula - Brand Positioning
Faceless, heartless and bureaucratic. Financial service providers inherit a stereotyped perception that they are bland, boring, and uncaring. Those that cut through differentiate themselves in a lucrative and competitive marketplace. Giants like ANZ work towards it and insurance companies like Lemonade are applauded for it, reaping such financial benefits that their brand ends up in university case studies, and, with customer satisfaction scores that competitors could only dream of.
The Barbara Bank campaign by ANZ Bank positioned the bank as more likable than Barbara.
If you haven't seen ANZ's Barbara Bank ad campaigns, you're missing out. Not only are they hilarious but they are a great example of a financial service differentiating its brand from dated stereotypes. The days of being an impersonable, uncaring financial service provider are numbered. Those who fulfil the stereotype are having their market position challenged, and those that challenge the stereotype are securing their market position.
The days of being an impersonable, uncaring financial service provider are numbered.
Lemonade, for example, is a US insurance company that shook up the sector with its refreshing and authentic market position designed to resonate with Millennials. Their sign-up process is faster than Uber Eats. It's based on live chat and designed to create a frictionless user experience younger generations demand, and bureaucratic insurance companies' envy. They also baked social good into their brand by donating a percentage of premiums to charity, helping the brand be perceived as more likable, and conscientious.
Lemonade turns buying insurance from a “necessary evil” into a “social good.”
How do you apply this to your business? Well, firstly, there are several considerations to integrate into your brand positioning as a financial service provider. Brand studies have highlighted why people choose professional services brands and found prospective customers' brand preferences are driven by:
- Likability – You must resonate with your audience to be perceived as trustworthy. And, your firm must be easy to work with (aka: have a seamless customer experience)
- Results – you must apply that financial know-how in relatable scenarios. Results are critical - if you don’t have them you are simply perceived as untrustworthy and all-talk.
- Expertise – you are expected to demonstrate superior knowledge in your area of financial expertise. Gen Z and Millenials in particular have been found to be seeking financial literacy from their financial service provider.
Aim for your business to facilitate these points, your branding articulate them, and your marketing strategy amplify them.
1. Be Likeable :)
Nobody wants to do business with someone they don't like, so why do some insurance companies inadvertently position themselves as well... boring? Your market wants extraordinary whether that's results or response times, right?
If you're a marketing team that feels a bit stuck with a 'boring' brand, you can make yourself more likable by including what your audience likes in your campaigns. For example, researchers have found both dogs and cats can increase an ad's persuasiveness.
Crafting a brand that's easy to like doesn't usually happen by chance. It's strategic.
Your Brand Persona
Every business is perceived as an entity. It has an identity or a way in which it is perceived as a collective. It's either a default perception or a carefully crafted branding strategy facilitated by a marketer like me who helps small businesses define their brand. We want your audience to feel like you 'get them' like US Senator Bernie Sanders 'gets' Millennials. He might be older, and your brand might be older too, but he still resonates with his audience because he convinces them he understands their world. Do you understand your audience's world? You need to. We need to.
Your understanding of your audience will flow through to every component of your brand and your market strategy.
Need help working out your brand persona? Take the brand archetype assessment.
Choose some key messages, and stick with them, and stick them everywhere.
Key messages are a part of branding. They are repeated over and over again, like taglines, so that people remember what you're about, (ideally in a positively defined light). For financial service providers, you are often inviting one person to invest in your product or service, so your copy can benefit from a narrative written in first-person. If you are an authority, second-person is often used.
An example of leveraging key messaging in branding is the National Australia Bank. NAB has a tagline, you may have heard it: More Than Money. This is interesting considering NAB Bank was singled out in Australia's royal commission into banking, with a scathing assessment by the commissioner who stated he did not believe the bank had 'learned its lessons of past misconduct'. In the commission, NAB was found to value dollars over its customers. Ironically, NAB has been plugging the 'More Than Money' tagline since 2016. Despite the contrary evidence in the royal commission, they didn't shirk from their brand positioning, rather it seems they've dialed it up, plastering their tagline in their ads across every possible touchpoint. One could wonder if NAB's team understands that maintaining a key message consistently in the market can outdo the most powerful negative reviews.
For a smaller business, key messages are equally as important. A bank doesn't say, 'We're a bank'. These mammoth financial institutions say, 'More than money', 'Can lives here', 'We live in your world'. As a small business marketing consultant, I find small financial service businesses often use very functional key messaging that negates differentiation. For example: 'For all your business and taxation needs', 'Business and tax advisory', 'True financial advice.' It's not that you don't want your key messages to be functional, it's that these don't do you justice. Great financial advice or services can change lives. Money is a highly emotive topic and hitting the right emotional notes in your branding can be critical. How about, 'Take back control', 'Grow for tomorrow', or 'Live the life you always wanted.'
If you are a financial service business that needs help with your brand positioning and key messages you may be interested in my branding packages for small business.
This brings me to...
Social proof, both online and offline will build your credibility. For this reason, building out your case studies and reviews becomes a critical component of a marketing plan for a financial service provider. Every review tells a trusted story - your client's story and how your business (ideally) is the hero that saves the day. Most people in society want to make some sort of a change or difference in life, and your ability to facilitate that invitation through all your content is all a part of a marketing plan for your financial service.
This Thai Life Insurance Ad is an emotive campaign that encourages people to consider others.
Results are not always numbers, they're narratives.
Results are not always numbers, they're narratives. For example Google reviews like the one pictured below can tell transformational stories.
Some companies tell their story better than others. This life insurance companies ad boldly states: 'We are all going to die' and invites us to sign up to life insurance.
Review Your Company's Online Presence
Google Business listings are critical for small businesses. Some can almost depend purely upon Google Business reviews to stay in business. If you don't yet have a brick-and-mortar location, a trusted review platform like Trust Pilot is also beneficial because it can support search results. Bigger companies are profiled on Wikipedia, and these profiles can also be optimised.
Customer Reviews Are Critical
Did you know a high percentage of people won't even consider a business without reviews? And, if you do have reviews, but they're dated, they'll pass you by? Maximise your referral strategy by looking after your current clientele.
Reward Current Customers
A company's most loyal customers also tend to be the most profitable. With each additional year of a relationship, customers become less costly to serve. Over time, as the loyalty cycle plays out, these loyal customers buy more, pay higher prices, and bring in new customers via referrals. If you have clients that have been with you an age, don't take the relationship for granted. Reward their loyalty by designing a loyalty program that moves beyond one-off promotional giveaways, to behavioural outcomes.
A loyalty program, well designed, has the ability to accelerate the loyalty life cycle, encouraging first or second-year clients to behave like a company's most profitable tenth-year client. Acknowledgment, sign-up anniversary gifts or discounts is where you can begin, but facilitating loyal behaviour requires a sustained and strategic loyalty program. And, a program that's easy for your clients to participate in.
Types of loyalty programs used by financial service providers:
- Points based programs
- Cashback eg. a health insurance company may reward their customers for hitting fitness goals
- Tiered loyalty programs
- Fee-based loyalty programs
- Value-based loyalty programs
The Bank of America offers a calculator on their website. A calculator that shows customers what they can 'earn' through their rewards program.
As the saying goes, 'prevention is better than cure' - ask your current clientele for feedback, and look for constructive changes you can make. Negative feedback can turn business around for the better, and asking for feedback early, before you've even detected discontent can help you both turn a situation around quickly, and before it ends up on Google reviews.
Practical ways to facilitate feedback:
- An annual Net Promoter Score survey (NPS). NPS is a widely used market research metric that asks respondents to rate the likelihood that they would recommend a company, product or service to a friend or colleague.
- Quick feedback options at the end of a live chat
- Email signatures
- Automated SMS after meetings
Build Positive Reviews into Case Studies
If you secure internal feedback, you can approach your happy clients for public reviews or case studies. These positive stories help showcase your expertise and results in real-life situations. They're critical to the success of marketing plans for financial service providers and can be utilised in a multitude of ways.
What If I Get Bad Reviews?
Well, aside from working to turn things around, some companies leverage their lower score. Insurance company Lemonade, use a slightly lower score to position the brand as more authentic. It sounds counterintuitive, but companies or products that only have 5-star ratings can actually come off as suspicious, while slightly slower scores can be perceived as more trustworthy. Research suggests a slightly imperfect score around 4.5 stars is just right.
One Gold Coast accountant tried taking Google to court over a bad review. He claimed the client never existed, and every other review for him is 5 stars. His rating dropped a tad, and with one or two more fresh reviews from his happy clients, he could hit the magic of 4.5.
An important component of brand positioning for financial service providers is your expertise, and, part of this, is your niche.
When the going gets tough, businesses can get (and sound) desperate.
During the pandemic, many businesses took on random clients just to keep the lights on. If you take on random clientele, you can end up with a weak market profile. Ever heard the saying? Jack of all trades, but master of none? Don't be Jack. Having a clear niche and sticking to it can solidify your reputation better than risking spreading yourself too thin all for the sake of a few dollars.
"Be A Thought Leader"
This one can be so much easier said than done, but it still has to be said. It requires creativity, (innovation) and elbow grease. Means used include content marketing, PR and often a combination of both.
I admit I find this piece of advice humorous because small business owners or financial startups tend to find themselves strapped for time. They often already feel like a 'thought leader', right? They just need someone to draw out the thoughts and do a 'show and tell' as they're too busy working in the business.
Dare I suggest it - that's exactly the challenge. To be a thought leader you need to be working on your business not in your business, OR have your own team of 'thought leaders' that are personifying your brand, like content marketers, or social influencers.
An example of a financial service provider that goes heavy on content marketing is The Ramsey Show. His show is broadcast across 550+ radio stations, social media and TV channels.
Dave's business is heavily dependent on content marketing - his story, and other's stories. Every individual fighting their way to financial freedom, and that's exactly who he helps with his business. Every single piece of his content directly or indirectly points people to his financial services.
Achieving a weekly audience of 8+ million has been no easy feat. Dave understands he's not just selling a product, he's offering people hope. That's brand, his brand - hope replacing despair.
Social Influencers & Affiliate Marketing For Financial Services
Trading app Robin Hood runs their content marketing differently - they incentivise others to do it for them. Social influencers can promote their app to their audiences with affiliate links, and be rewarded. However, this strategy can backfire if something goes wrong with the business.
Financial Influencers like Andrei Jikh signed up to be a part of the Robin Hood affiliate program.
In 2021 Robinhood faced lawsuits after it restricted the trading of certain securities. The same influencers that invited their audience to sign up with affiliate links, perhaps worried about their own brands, turned against Robinhood. This, in turn, magnified the bad press, significantly damaging their reputation while opening opportunities for competitors to buy those same influencers.
Paid Social Influencers can be quick to jump ship. True believers will always be more influential.
The key lesson here is that while social influencers can be powerful, true believers will always be better than purchased ones.
This brings me to...
Your People Impact Your Brand
Your financial practice’s ability to deliver value rests on the skills of your people, and the skill set of those professionals affects who you take on as clients. In turn, the clients you take on affect the development of your staff's skills, and potentially even your own as a business owner.
Even if you're selling financial products, like credit cards, your people will impact your brand. You could portray a lux brand experience when selling your product, but customers have a contrasting brand experience when using the product, perhaps because the customer service isn't lux, it's budget. This could eat into the longevity of the acquisition. The customer is unsatisfied, and so, they swap credit card companies.
Whatever you are selling, your people impact your brand and this must be considered when developing a marketing plan for financial services.
A Checklist For Advertising Financial Services
When you're creating a marketing plan for financial services, there are some basic, but important steps to consider, perhaps the most important being the following:
1. The Legalities Of Advertising Financial Services
There are always legal requirements when advertising financial services. Be aware of them. In Australia, ASIC has a great guide to help those in the financial service sector comply with the legal requirements of advertising a financial product or service. The rules can be different in different states, and are different for different countries. You'll need to abide by the legislation in whatever region you are advertising.
2. Determining Your Marketing Budget
When a financial service business is evolving, the marketing budget can be a bit ad-hoc. As the business grows, the spend is cemented usually at the beginning of the financial year. When deciding on an allocation for your financial service marketing plan, there are a number of considerations:
Your Customer's Lifetime Value (CLV)
Financial service clients tend to be repeat customers. You are fortunate enough to be in what some call a 'sticky business'. A sticky business is where the clients 'stick around', resulting in recurring revenue for the business. Consider the lifecycle of your current or forecast clientele, and how much money, on average, they bring you over time. This will help you determine how much money to spend to acquire them in the first place, as well as how worthwhile it is to invest in them in order to keep them on your books.
Your Costs Per Acquisition (CPA)
Determine your CPA. If you don't have any data to go off, you can research industry averages specific to financial services, or ideally narrow it down to the actual product or service you offer. Branded gift cards for example would have a contrasting CPA to convince someone with a home loan to swap banks.
Read more on how to determine your marketing budget as a small business. (link opens in new window)
Ok, now that you more information around your numbers, you should have a better idea on what your budget should be. Once determined, you're ready to begin to lock down your plan of attack for the next financial year.
3. Your Website
Xero was started when its founder was struggling with outdated accounting software, Afterpay became a modernized version of layby, Square Inc is an aggregation of merchant services into a single platform. Fintech success is all about usability, and the same can be applied to your financial service website. You need it to be user-friendly, and mobile-first. A website is a living thing, and must continually evolve to support users and marketing channels.
Youi insurance is an example of a highly optimised home page.
Market research firm Gartner has a great on-demand webinar for designing websites in financial services that you may find helpful.
Personalised emails are just the beginning for financial services. Effective personalisation delivers competitive customer experience, builds trust, and fast-tracks loyal customer behaviours. With the growth of artificial intelligence, companies that fail to pursue contextual customer experiences are being devoured by those that are. You don't need to be big to offer a personal approach. It's actually the big players that are striving to create the personalised feel that can come with the small business experience. Nobody wants to feel like a small fish in a big pond after all.
Automated personalisation tech options are enabling:
- Smaller businesses to scale, all while keeping the same 'feeling' of one-to-one care.
- Larger companies to create the actual feeling of one-to-one care.
5. Determining Your Channel Mix
When you're designing a marketing plan for a financial service provider, consider this: nobody uses one channel in their everyday life, so why limit your business to one? Smaller-sized businesses can restrict their spending to one or two mediums like Adwords or SEO. You probably wouldn't recommend investing purely in one stock, and putting all your marketing investment in one basket also carries risk. Think of your channel mix as an ETF - the better you craft it, the better your results.
Channels you may consider:
- Radio sponsorships
- Local networking events
- Business groups or partnerships
- Direct mail (can be better than you might think)
- Google Ads
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Social Media Marketing (Twitter campaigns, Reddit campaigns, Meta, etc.)
- YouTube content
- Email marketing (but no newsletters, please, they tend to suck resources, lack engagement, and lack the level of personalisation our current era demands).
Read more about blending traditional and online media to magnify results.
The more touchpoints a customer has to experience your brand, the more likely they are to buy. However, every touchpoint must pull in the same direction. Saying you're a financial advisor for educators but posting SEO blogs about financial advice for tradies will weaken your brand position. Portraying yourself as high-end but posting clip art on Instagram creates a contradiction. Your business, your brand, needs cohesion.
Every touchpoint must pull in the same direction.
When a smaller business gets to the stage where referrals are no longer enough to secure business growth, they scope out their advertising options. They may have been approached by an alleged SEO superstar, a company that sells magazine ads or social media advertisers. If they're feeling the pinch, they might splash cash in a hurry, on one or a few channels, in the hope of some quick leads. Later, they set up an overarching marketing plan for their financial service, based, unfortunately, on the data from their quick advertising experiments.
"Let's get this straight - advertising is not marketing, it's a marketing tool"
People often try advertising and find it doesn't work for them. Then, rather than blame the ad or means, they simply state, "marketing doesn't work", "I don't believe in marketing" or words to that effect. Let's get this straight: advertising is not marketing, it's a marketing tool. Marketing is strategic, and while a good advertising campaign can call attention to your financial product or service, please don't think of it as your marketing strategy. Quick advertising experiments aren't always the best way to gauge channel performance, and marketing tactics tend to capitalise on consistency.
Google Ads For Financial Service Providers
Advertising financial services on Google Ads (Adwords) can be cost-prohibitive for small financial service entities, like a start-up accounting firm. It's because you can find yourself competing for the same terms that juggernauts like MYOB are going for, who can out-bid you on the most valuable phrases no worries. Some marketing studies have found the average cost per inquiry can sit at $1200.
However, if you can afford to trial Google Ads long enough for the algorithm to learn what works for your business, and if it makes sense based on your client's lifetime value vs cost per acquisition, it can pay off and, in a big way. Xero isn't investing in Adwords for nothing after all. Based on my experience working with small businesses, your trial spend needs to be at least $1500 per month for 3-months to really test if Google Ads can work for your business. Bare minimum 1-month.
Read more on are Google Ads worth it for small business.
Want to see Google Ads could work for you? Contact me and I can give you expert advice specific to your business.
A Heads-Up On SEO For Financial Service Providers
Did you know that search engines like Google scrutinize some websites and their pages more than others, purely because of their potential to affect a person’s well-being? These pages have an acronym - YMYL, or Your Money, Your Life pages. Any web pages that have something to do with financial advice or wealth management qualify as YMYL pages and can be tough to rank well on organic search results. This is especially true after an August 2018 Google algorithm update—dubbed the Google Medic update —that impacted the financial sector’s search rankings.
This means that your website and any content you publish needs to be of the highest calibre you can muster. As per point 1 in positioning your brand, expertise is one of the most critical brand characteristics to showcase across all mediums you choose to use, including within content developed to support organic search results.
Google has very detailed guidelines on search quality that they provide to third-party Search Quality Raters. Check them out here.
Ease. Expertise. Likeability.
Ease. Expertise. Likeability. A marketing strategy for financial service providers needs to facilitate and amplify each. Your brand positioning strategy is the (now) not-so-secret formula that will be critical to success when you're advertising your financial services or products.
Need a hand? I'm a digital marketing consultant based in Melbourne working with SMEs including financial service clients. Drop me a line.